Only 600 miles to Cape Horn, the “peak” of our southern trek, a 98° change in latitude from New York. Our trip south was fast up to the equator, and since then it has alternated between high and low phases, which is never good for the average. The same pattern held true over the past 24 hours, during which we had to settle for a score of only 336 miles. After a really rough night, our first foray into the 40s started out nice and calm. “We've just entered bird country,” said skipper Lionel Lemonchois. All around us, various varieties of petrels, including black ones, puffins and the first albatross, small ones, frolicked around Gitana 13 as we gradually lost speed. Crossing the high-pressure ridge was slower than expected and, surrounded by the incredible purity of majestic blue, we dropped the mainsail for a general inspection in the sun.
Once we finished taking apart and checking the batten slides, we put the main back up amid a rising wind from the north quadrant, a sign that we'd arrived on the right side of the ridge. Thus began another sprint, flying the big and then small gennaker, with one or no reef in the mainsail. After a night of fantastic beauty, we were again busy in the “gym” before dawn Thursday morning with another gennaker switch, as the breeze began to soften, a harbinger of the next obstacle to come. To keep things interesting, this time we had to make our way around a small low-pressure system. In a few hours, the gennaker should be back in its bag, and we expect to continue nearly close-hauled toward the Le Maire Channel, which we hope to reach tomorrow, 1 February, during the day.
Skipper Lemonchois gets the last word: “This route is thrilling, and like anything that's thrilling, it's not easy. We're trying to do things as intelligently as possible, to be as responsive as possible, as we go from one weather system to the next. That requires a lot of work on the map table as well as on deck. But at least there's no time to get bored.” The other nine of us can confirm these words! We haven't had time to crack any of the books we brought onboard, and tomorrow we'll be busy thinking about the Horn. So as for reading …
Bring in the Horn
It's sort of like two days before finals, but 35 years later. This is the reason I came: to round Cape Horn.
I'm not really much more of a sailor—even after 17 years on multi-hulls, part-time trainer, part-time crew member—than I was a mountaineer after 12 years of teaching skiing in the Alps, or a pilot after several seasons of flying ultralights all over the country.
I like to experience different human environments, but only for awhile, and then, after I've found my place, I leave a small imprint when I go. Yeah, so in two days I'll make my mark: I'll be a Cape Horner, like in the books. Will that be it then?
You'll see, in the next episode: Grampa is a Cape Horner